What is consulting?

Consulting is becoming an increasingly broader industry incorporating roles such as management consultants, recruitment consultants and business advisors, to name just a few.

But whichever way you look at it consultancy is a varied profession, with projects and clients changing constantly. This can be the beauty but also the challenge of this profession.

The origins of the consulting industry in the UK date back to the 1950s as American management consultancy firms extended their reach across the Atlantic, and the Institute of Consulting was set up shortly after as a membership body for the growing market.

Definition of consulting

"The provision to businesses of objective advice and assistance relating to the strategy, structure, management and operations of an organisation in pursuit of its long-term purposes and objectives. Such assistance may include the identification of options with recommendations; the provision of additional resources; and/or the implementation of solutions."

In a nutshell a consultant provides external advice for organisations that require specialist expertise or an objective outside perspective on their business.

Routes into consultancy

Similar to many attractive career options getting a foothold in the consulting industry is tough.

Graduates will tend to need work experience in order to get the job they want. Alternatively large consultancy firms including Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PWC and Accenture will recruit graduates onto their training schemes. We recommend graduates looking into a consultancy career also use the management consultancy guide produced by Inside Careers.

Experienced professionals at the mid-senior level can use consultancy as a step towards a fast-track career. Commercial credibility is essential at being able to enter the consultancy industry, that is direct, first-hand experience of commercial issues is key at being able to market yourself, or the organisation you represent as a consultant or business advisor.

The IC offer a range of membership resources that help newcomers enter the market.

The consulting industry

According to the MCA's UK Consulting Industry Statistics Report 2012 the UK consulting industry is worth £8.5bn and employs more than 80,000 consultants.

Despite being heavily affected by the global recession of 2008-09 the sector has gradually returned to health. However during this time a divergent market has appeared with public sector business growth contracting year-on-year and private sector growth running at around 14% year-on-year. In total the industry grew at a rate of 5% in 2011.

In some circles consultants carry negative connotations. For example research conducted by the IC in early 2012 found that 90% of our members clients had been previously let down by consultants, often by over-charging and under-delivering. Part of the IC's mission is to remove these connotations and bridge the gap in understanding between consultants and their buyers. Our National Consultants' Register is a key industry platform that allows us to do this and is a widely used buyer resource that helps them find the right consultant.